After the last census, for instance, more than jurisdictions around the country challenged federal census figures.
The Trump administration in March announced its plan to add the citizenship question, which set off a flurry of lawsuits arguing the question would depress responses in places with large immigrant populations, mostly in blue states. Critics said this would cause the census to run afoul of the "constitutional requirement" that the government count all people living in the country, whether citizens or not.
Although the Supreme Court blocked efforts to add the question and the administration has largely abandoned its plan to add it by executive order, many advocates say the damage is already done. Every state is at risk of an undercount, but it is more pronounced in states with larger immigrant populations, according to the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau. Carlyn Cowen is a policy expert at the New York-based Chinese-American Planning Council, which is doing census outreach to immigrant communities in the city and has worked on previous decennial counts.
She told NBC News that there have always been undercount fears because of the massive undertaking of counting every person the country, particularly harder-to-count groups such as immigrants and people of color. But this year, residents have expressed a notable fear that completing the census could jeopardize their immigration status.
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The Census Bureau has assured critics it is "on track, on budget and on time" for Census Day on April 1 of next year — the official start of the count. To make the process simpler, the federal agency is modernizing its efforts, including making the census forms available online and creating call centers to help people fill out the questions. Still, the Government Accountability Office placed the census on its list of "high-risk" government projects. Even cities have stepped up.
In New York City , for example, they're not relying on the federal government's assurances. The city is dolling out chunks of that to groups like the Chinese-American Planning Council to do a host of outreach activities, including door-knocking, advertising and holding workshops with residents. Nearly federal programs use census data to divvy up hundreds of billions a year to states, cities and counties, according to a recent study by the George Washington Institute of Public Policy, money that goes toward everything from health care, to infrastructure, to schools.
However, a study released by the Urban Institute in June found that more than 4 million people — particularly black and Latino Americans — are at risk of not being counted in the census, putting resources in jeopardy for those communities. Both California and New York are re-allocating much of their census budgets toward outreach to harder-to-count populations, such as immigrant and minority communities, as well as seniors and children under the age of 5, by partnering with community organizations.
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Efforts also include media campaigns to reach people through print, digital and TV ads and the creation of census centers in libraries and other public spaces to help residents understand how to fill out the form and understand what's at stake. However, experts note that while the urgency to have an accurate census is there in some states and cities, the money isn't. Joe Dorman, a former Oklahoma state representative and CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, told NBC News that the state has a history of undercounts, and having no state dollars forcounting its residents could put the state in a financial crunch.
He said his organization has partnered with dozens of other nonprofits in the state to pool together resources and money to do outreach to the hardest citizens to count, which are often immigrant, rural or tribal communities as well as those who are skeptical of giving the government personal data. But children under 5, he said, are the most at risk of an undercount. Texas is another populous state with a growing Latino and immigrant population and a patchwork of efforts to ensure an accurate count, and experts are warning of dire consequences from this census.
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